NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — No one knows if Monday night’s regular season finale will be Pekka Rinne’s final start in goal for the Nashville Predators. But if it was, man, did he put on a show.
With an adoring crowd waving thank you signs and chanting his name pregame, Rinne shook off the emotion and delivered a vintage performance. In his first start in exactly one month, the 38-year-old looked quick, decisive and confident while turning away all 30 shots he faced. He stopped point-blank chances and smothered rebounds, much like he’s done for the past 15 years as the masked face of this franchise.
With the Predators leading 5-0 and the outcome no longer in doubt in the third period, the 33 percent capacity crowd at Bridgestone Arena did its best to will Rinne to his 60th career shutout. He didn’t need their help.
It was Rinne’s night after all. He is the most impactful player in Predators franchise history, and still a superb goaltender even if Juuse Saros is now the No. 1 in Nashville. When the horn sounded on his 369th career win, Pekka moved into a tie with Tom Barrasso for 19th place on the all-time goalie wins list.
He was mobbed by teammates and saluted by fans, and I think everybody in the building stopped and asked themselves if this could really be it? Rinne can still play, and he will have the opportunity to pick what he wants to do next season when his contract expires this summer.
Will he want to continue to play at the level he obviously can and try to compete for a starting job somewhere else? Would he want to return to Finland and play the remainder of his career back at home? Will he decide to retire after 683 NHL regular season games played? Or is there a chance he can be convinced to return to Nashville for another season (or two) as the backup to Saros, his one-time pupil turned star?
The two Finnish goalies share a special bond that has made this transition as smooth as it has been for the Predators, so it may not be the slam dunk decision many believe it will be for Rinne to decide to move on one way or another this summer when he sits down with Nashville general manager David Poile to discuss the future.
But if this was it for No. 35 between the pipes at Bridgestone Arena, what a way to go out. Rinne received standing ovations before, during and after Monday night’s game. The last of which led to an impromptu victory lap around the ice before he was once again mobbed by teammates, including captain Roman Josi and Saros who both received the night off Monday with the playoff berth already clinched. The only shame was that the building couldn’t be full.
Rinne put his glove to his heart and mouthed, “I love you” to the Smashville crowd. It is beyond clear by now that they love him back. Every single one of his 683 NHL games has come as a Predator. He has been a part of nine of the team’s 13 playoff appearances, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 with .930 save percentage that he followed up with the Vezina Trophy the following season as the Preds won the President’s Trophy.
No one has been more responsible for making the Predators a contender and making Music City a hockey city. And no one has been more involved in the community. Hiss 365 fund has donated over $3.3 million to Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital for pediatric cancer research. And the 6’5 Rinne is no stranger to lending a helping hand in the hospital or wherever it’s been needed in Nashville.
Rinne is an even better person than he is a goaltender, which is saying something when you consider he is objectively one of the 20 greatest goalies in NHL history. He belongs on the city’s Mount Rushmore of sports heroes alongside Titans greats like Eddie George and Steve McNair.
Whatever he decides about his future in the coming months, there will be another special night in Rinne’s honor down the road when he becomes the first Predators player to have his jersey raised to the rafters. But even that night will have a tough time topping this one.
Hollywood scripts don’t get better than this. Then again, they don’t get much better than Pekka Rinne.